Dave Eggers’s new novel The Circle contemplates a world where the most powerful internet company – think Facebook and Twitter swallowed up by Google – manages your online identity. Not the worst idea in the world you’d think, since it would negate the need for multiple passwords.
But as the protagonist Mae Holland, a new employee at the Circle, discovers, working at one of the most influential companies in the world isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
It’s Eggers seventh book and, he insists, not in any way based on Google. But his best work has always come from real life experiences. If you haven’t read any before, here's three of the best of the rest of his work, in the order we suggest you read them:
There is something so very clear eyed and unsentimental – things his critics accuse Eggers of missing – in this non-fiction retelling of one man’s journey in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, making Zeitoun the ideal choice for Egger beginners.
Adbulrahman Zeitoun is the Syrian American of the title who rides out Katrina in his uptown home and afterwards travels the flooded New Orleans in a canoe, rescuing neighbours and distributing water. When the U.S. Army National Guard arrests him, first accusing him of looting, then of terrorist activity, the narrative takes a nasty turn and the author’s righteous anger rises like the water. The story – as with most of Eggers work – is astonishing if it weren’t true, and is a direct hit on the Bush administration in all its abuse of power.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Eggers’ first book relates the story of how he and his siblings cope after the death of their parents to cancer, within two months of each other. But from the title down, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, is not your by-numbers misery lit. Instead, marvel at the wild, thrilling, life affirming way Eggers tells this tale, the primary story of which is how he is forced to become parent to his younger brother Toph.
Eggers embellishes the real life elements with crazy, tangential fantasy scenes (there is a brilliant detour into a TV script), actual conversations intercut with Eggers’ understandably off-the-wall thought processes and a whole series of additions, like a lengthy preface and list of tips on how better to enjoy the book. The latter are entertaining but overcooked and overwhelming. For that reason, don't make this your first dip into his world. By the same token, it is so regularly bordering on brilliance, don't leave it to the last.
What is the What
The best book that he’s written? The autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng is classed as a novel but tells the true story of Deng, a refugee from the Sudanese Civil War who flees his village from Arab militia. He becomes part of a group of ‘lost boys’ trying to make their way to Ethiopia, a tale which is told in parallel to the equally harrowing time Deng endures years later when he has moved to the United States as part of the Lost Boys of Sudan resettlement programme.
It’s Eggers most powerful work, not least because it happened. But also because of his gift as a storyteller, writing in Deng’s voice and being unafraid to marry the thrill of a boys' own adventure story to the realities of war. What is the What is a page-turner alright, but it’s one that makes a deep, deep impact.
The Circle is out now on Hamish Hamilton